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article imageConservationists applaud as Idaho halts controversial wolf kill

By Megan Hamilton     Aug 7, 2015 in Environment
Idaho wolf conservationists are happy, and for good reason. The state has notified federal land managers that it will not reinstate a controversial program to kill wolves in a national wilderness area.
Idaho's Department of Fish and Game hired a hunter in 2013 to trap and kill wolves in the mountains of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, an area that is federally protected. The department did this in response to complaints from hunters who said wolves in that area were reducing the size of elk herds, Reuters reports.
The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
United States Forest Service
Last year the state agency suspended the program after the hunter trapped and killed nine wolves. Conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, filed suit in federal court. The conservationists alleged that the wolf roundup violated principles of limiting human intervention in federally protected wilderness areas.
Officials had wanted to cut the number of wolves by 60 percent in a protected river corridor in the 2.4 million-acre wilderness, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. On Wednesday, in a letter received by Earthjustice, the United States Forest Service said it had been informed by Idaho Fish and Game that no wolf-control will be conducted in the wilderness, commonly known as "the Frank," during the winter of 2015-2016.
"We are relieved that it will be managed as a wild place with natural wildlife populations, rather than an elk farm, for at least this coming winter," Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso said in a statement, reports.
The agency is conducting a statewide study of 500 radio-collared elk and has shifted attention away from wolves for the time being, says Jeff Gould, Fish and Game's wildlife bureau chief.
"At this point, our focus is more on monitoring elk than it is from removing wolves from certain parts of the Frank Church," he said.
Trapping and sport hunting is still allowed, he added. The River of No Return is, however, so extremely remote and rugged that few hunters have the necessary skills to succeed in the area during the winter.
Earthjustice represented Idaho wilderness advocate and conservationist Ralph Maughan and four conservation groups — Western Watersheds Project, The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Wilderness Watch, and in response Idaho Fish and Game terminated wolf-killing activities and agreed to halt state wolf killing in the wilderness until at least Nov. 1, 2015, The Center for Biological Diversity reports. As part of a condition of the lawsuit, the forest service and Idaho Fish and Game were required to notify Earthjustice that the wolves of the River of No Return will be safe from Idaho's wolf-killing program through the 2015-2016 winter.
"We will remain vigilant to ensure that wilderness values prevail for the long term," Preso said, per the Center.
"Happily this means a year will go by without Idaho Fish and Game artificially disrupting the natural wildlife processes that are essential to a protected wilderness area," said Maughan, a retired Idaho State University professor, the Center reports. "I like to think it means respect for wilderness is growing inside the department."
In Idaho and several other Northern Rocky Mountain states wolves have been a source of conflict since they were reintroduced to the Frank and Yellowstone National Park during the mid-1990s, after being trapped, shot, and poisoned nearly to extinction, Reuters reports.
Wolf populations in the region are rebounding and packs in Montana and Idaho were taken off the federal list of endangered and threatened species in 2011.This has opened the door for regulated hunting and trapping. Fortunately, wolves elsewhere in the Lower 48 states are still protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
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